These resources relate mainly to Western traditions of herbal medicine (also referred to as phytomedicine, herbal medicine or botanical medicine) that rely primarily on the use of single herbs. Other traditional systems of medicine, particularly Asian traditions, use many herbs in synergistic mixtures or blends. Examples are Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic, and Tibetan. They are not covered in the following listings. Note our Resource Guides on Ayurvedic, Tibetan medicine, and Traditional Systems of Medicine.
We are just beginning to understand the complexities of herbal medicine, with its multiplicity of active chemicals in a single herb, and the interaction of a mixture of herbs found in traditional therapies. Previously, scientific research relied on the drug development model, which focused on a single compound and mode of action. In order to effectively research whether herbal medicine is effective or even safe, we need to detect all the active chemicals that exist in a medicinal plant, but also evaluate their effects on humans individually and together. We need to know whether the production process changes the chemicals; whether these compounds interfere with each other or with other drugs; and if our current technology can accurately measure all of the potential chemicals that may play a part in the effectiveness of an “herbal drug”. Herbal growers, manufacturers, researchers, medical clinicians, funding agencies are all part of the panoply of actors involved in the making of safe and effective herbal medicine.
As demand for alternative medicine has grown, so have the harvesting and collection pressures for numerous ecologies that produce the medicinal plants of interest. The largest impact on the availability has been the loss of habitat worldwide. In conjunction with loss of physical resources, many aboriginal societies who have maintained vast and important bodies of knowledge about the identification and use of medicinal plants are being lost as well. Both physical habitat and ancient knowledge, once lost, will be gone forever. An educated public is the best hope for influencing governmental decisions that will have far reaching implications.
The resources are selected and categorized to help you with your own research or background reading so you can become an intelligent, educated consumer not only of herbal products but, equally importantly, of information. Ultimately, together we will influence not only the quality of herbal medicine available to us in stores, but also whether we will maintain the diversity of plant life necessary to sustain a diversity of cultures and alternative methods for maintaining good health.